Friday, December 6, 2013

Father Knows Best

I am reminded of the words from time to time, spoken some 30 years ago by my father.

My father was a computer programmer, starting in the early-1960s, when the computers he was working on filled entire rooms.

While I was in college, taking an obligatory computer class to placate him, my dad told me something that still resonates with me today.

"Someday," he said, "people will do everything on home computers. They'll even do their shopping from home," my father told me, as if he was letting me in on a secret.

Damned if the old man wasn't right.

But I wonder if even he could have imagined just how right he would turn out to be.

My father passed away in 1996, just before the Internet really took off. Ironically, this great computer soothsayer never owned a PC of his own. He did, however, buy me a Commodore 64 in 1985.

Computer classes, back in 1982, were punch cards and boring program writing and amber text on a dark brown screen. Nothing close to what they have today.

So I, being a creative type who majored in communications, wasn't exactly turned on by computer programming. I have a feeling that my dad knew it would be a lesson in futility to get me involved in it as a vocation, but he gave it a shot.

Maybe I should have heeded his advice.

(Left: dad and me, circa 1990)

Actually---and my wife pointed this out to me a few years ago---our career paths did kind of meet in the middle.

I have taken my creativity and penchant for writing to the Internet---that world of home computing that my dad spoke about with so much clairvoyance in the early-1980s.

I often wonder how involved in the Internet my dad would have become, if at all.

Would he have owned a PC, browsed the Net with fervor and taken me to task on my blogs, or would he have gone into old curmudgeon mode and eschewed a computer entirely---which would have been the mother of all ironies.

It would be like a father predicting that some day man would travel on wheels via gas-powered engines, and then never owning a car.

But I will never forget his prediction about people shopping from home, via computer.

When he told me that, I had this vision of a computer, hooked up to one of those big, clunky modems, somehow connecting to a grocery store or something. After that, I wasn't sure how things were supposed to work.

I wonder what he'd think of Cyber Monday.

My dad, near the end of his career, wrote security systems for main frames. I can barely wrap my head around that. He worked mostly for General Motors, and then for EDS after GM bought them. After that transition, my father ended up working with a bunch of 30-something yuppies. Let's just say that it wasn't a good fit. You'd have to know my dad.

But he was on the button about shopping on the computer.

About all the other stuff people do digitally, who knows what he would have thought. Maybe it's best that he didn't stick around long enough to find out.

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